2003  

January 2003

Engels, Friedrich. The Condition of the Working Class in England. Translated by Florence Wischnewetzky; edited with a foreword by Victor Kiernan. London: Penguin Books, [1845, 1886, 1892] 1987. ISBN 0-14-044486-6.
A Web edition of this title is available online.

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How, Edith A. People of Africa. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1921.
This book was found in a Cairo bookbinder's shop; I know of no source for printed copies, but an electronic edition is now available online at this site.

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Kelly, Thomas J. Moon Lander. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001. ISBN 1-56098-998-X.

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Leeson, Nick with Edward Whitley. Rogue Trader. London: Warner Books, 1996. ISBN 0-7515-1708-9.

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Crichton, Michael. Prey. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. ISBN 0-06-621412-2.

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Erasmus, Desiderius. The Praise of Folly. Translated, with an introduction and commentary by Clarence H. Miller. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, [1511, 1532] 1979. ISBN 0-300-02373-1.
This edition translates the Moriae Encomium into very colloquial American English. The effect is doubtless comparable to the original Latin on a contemporary reader (one, that is, who grasped the thousands of classical and scriptural allusions in the text, all nicely annotated here), but still it's somewhat jarring to hear Erasmus spout phrases such as “fit as a fiddle”, “bull [in] a chinashop”, and “x-ray vision”. If you prefer a little more gravitas in your Erasmus, check out the 1688 English translation and the original Latin text available online at the Erasmus Text Project. After the first unauthorised edition was published in 1511, Erasmus revised the text for each of seven editions published between 1512 and 1532; the bulk of the changes were in the 1514 and 1516 editions. This translation is based on the 1532 edition published at Basel, and identifies the changes since 1511, giving the date of each.

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Magueijo, Joăo. Faster Than the Speed of Light. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books, 2003. ISBN 0-7382-0525-7.

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Gordon, Deborah M. Ants at Work. New York: The Free Press, 1999. ISBN 0-684-85733-2.

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Liddy, G. Gordon. When I Was a Kid, This Was a Free Country. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0-89526-175-8.

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Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, [1938, 1952] 1987. ISBN 0-15-642117-8.
The orwell.ru site makes available electronic editions of this work in both English and Русский which you can read online or download to read at your leisure. All of Orwell's works are in the public domain under Russia's 50 year copyright law.

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Christensen, Mark. Build the Perfect Beast. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001. ISBN 0-312-26873-4.
Here's the concept: a bunch of Southern California morons set out to reinvent the automobile in the 1990's. This would be far more amusing were it not written by one of them, who remains, after all the misadventures recounted in the text, fully as clueless as at the get-go, and enormously less irritating had his editor at St. Martin's Press—a usually respectable house—construed their mandate to extend beyond running the manuscript through a spelling checker. Three and four letter words are misspelled; technical terms are rendered phonetically (“Nacca-duct”, p. 314; “tinsel strength”, p. 369), factual howlers of all kinds litter the pages, and even the spelling of principal characters varies from page to page—on page 6 one person's name is spelled two different ways within five lines. This may be the only book ever issued by a major publisher which manages to misspell “Popsicle” in two entirely different ways (pp. 234, 350). When you fork out US$26.95 for a book, you deserve something better than a first draft manuscript between hard covers. I've fact-checked many a manuscript with fewer errors than this book.

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February 2003

Orizio, Riccardo. Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators. Translated by Avril Bardoni. London: Secker & Warburg, 2003. ISBN 0-436-20999-3.
A U.S. edition was published in April 2003.

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Scully, Matthew. Dominion. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002. ISBN 0-312-26147-0.

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Ward, Peter D. and Donald Brownlee. The Life and Death of Planet Earth. New York: Times Books, 2003. ISBN 0-8050-6781-7.

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Rose, Michael S. Goodbye, Good Men. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0-89526-144-8.

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Rosen, Milton W. The Viking Rocket Story. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955. LCCN 55-006592.
This book is out of print. You can generally find used copies at abebooks.com.

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Spencer, Robert. Islam Unveiled. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002. ISBN 1-893554-58-9.

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Harris, Robert. Archangel. London: Arrow Books, 1999. ISBN 0-09-928241-0.
A U.S. edition is also in print.

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Heinlein, Robert A. Have Space Suit—Will Travel. New York: Del Rey, [1958] 1977. ISBN 0-345-32441-2.

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Hester, Elliott. Plane Insanity. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002. ISBN 0-312-26958-7.

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Hagen, Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen. Bruegel: The Complete Paintings. Translated by Michael Claridge. Köln, Germany: TASCHEN, 2000. ISBN 3-8228-5991-5.

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March 2003

Chancellor, Henry. Colditz. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. ISBN 0-06-001252-8.

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Gémignani, Anne-Marie. Une femme au royaume des interdits. Paris: Presses de la Renaissance, 2003. ISBN 2-85616-888-4.

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Carter, Bill and Merri Sue Carter. Latitude. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2002. ISBN 1-55750-016-9.
Although I bought this book from Amazon, recently it's shown there as “out of stock”; you may want to order it directly from the publisher. Naturally, you'll also want to read Dava Sobel's 1995 Longitude, which I read before I began keeping this list.

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Postrel, Virginia. The Future and Its Enemies. New York: Touchstone Books, 1998. ISBN 0-684-86269-7.
Additional references, updates, and a worth-visiting blog related to the topics discussed in this book are available at the author's Web site, www.dynamist.com.

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Smith, Edward E. Skylark of Valeron. New York: Pyramid Books, [1934, 1935, 1949] 1963. LCCN  49-008714.
This book is out of print; use the link above to locate used copies. Paperbacks published in the 1960s and 70s are available in perfectly readable condition at modest cost—compare the offers, however, since some sellers quote outrageous prices for these mass-market paperbacks. University of Nebraska Press are in the process of re-issuing “Doc” Smith's Skylark novels, but they haven't yet gotten to this one.

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Thompson, Hunter S. Kingdom of Fear. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003. ISBN 0-684-87323-0.
Autodesk old-timers who recall the IPO era will find the story recounted on pages 153–157 amusing, particularly those also present at the first encounter.

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Furland, Gerald K. Transfer. Chattanooga, TN: Intech Media, 1999. ISBN 0-9675322-0-5.
This novel is set in the U.S. during the implementation of technology similar to that described in my 1994 Unicard paper. This is one of those self-published, print-on-demand jobs: better than most. It reads like the first volume of a trilogy of which the balance has yet to appear. The cover price of US$19.95 is outrageous; Amazon sell it for US$9.99. What is the difficulty these authors have correctly employing the possessive case?

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Hitchens, Christopher. The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. London: Verso, 1995. ISBN 1-85984-054-X.

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Ekers, Ronald D. et al., eds. SETI 2020. Mountain View, CA: SETI Institute, 2002. ISBN 0-9666335-3-9.

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Allin, Michael. Zarafa. New York: Walker and Company, 1998. ISBN 0-3853-3411-7.

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April 2003

Berman, Morris. The Twilight of American Culture. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000. ISBN 0-393-32169-X.

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Williams, Jonathan, Joe Cribb, and Elizabeth Errington, eds. Money: A History. London: British Museum Press, 1997. ISBN 0-312-21212-7.

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Schneider, Ben Ross, Jr. Travels in Computerland. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1974. ISBN 0-201-06737-4.
It's been almost thirty years since I first read this delightful little book, which is now sadly out of print. It's well worth the effort of tracking down a used copy. You can generally find one in readable condition for a reasonable price through the link above or through abebooks.com. If you're too young to have experienced the mainframe computer era, here's an illuminating and entertaining view of just how difficult it was to accomplish anything back then; for those of us who endured the iron age of computing, it is a superb antidote to nostalgia. The insights into organising and managing a decentralised, multidisciplinary project under budget and deadline constraints in an era of technological change are as valid today as they were in the 1970s. The glimpse of the embryonic Internet on pages 241–242 is a gem.

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Greene, Graham. The Comedians. New York: Penguin Books, 1965. ISBN 0-14-018494-5.

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Vertosick, Frank T., Jr. The Genius Within. New York: Harcourt, 2002. ISBN 0-15-100551-6.

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Ferro, Marc. Les tabous de l'histoire. Paris: NiL, 2002. ISBN 2-84111-147-4.

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Waugh, Auberon. Will This Do? New York: Carroll & Graf 1991. ISBN 0-7867-0639-2.
This is about the coolest title for an autobiography I've yet to encounter.

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Begleiter, Steven H. The Art of Color Infrared Photography. Buffalo, NY: Amherst Media, 2002. ISBN 1-58428-065-4.

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Warraq, Ibn [pseud.] ed. What the Koran Really Says. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2002. ISBN 1-57392-945-X.
This is a survey and reader of Western Koranic studies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A wide variety of mutually conflicting interpretations are presented and no conclusions are drawn. The degree of detail may be more than some readers have bargained for: thirty-five pages (pp. 436–464, 472–479) discuss a single word. For a scholarly text there are a surprising number of typographical errors, many of which would have been found by a spelling checker.

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LaHaye, Tim and Jerry B. Jenkins. Nicolae. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1997. ISBN 0-8423-2924-2.

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Buckley, William F. The Redhunter. Boston: Little, Brown, 1999. ISBN 0-316-11589-4.
It's not often one spots an anachronism in one of WFB's historical novels. On page 330, two characters imitate “NBC superstar nightly newsers Chet Huntley and David Brinkley” in a scene set in late 1953. Huntley and Brinkley did not, in fact, begin their storied NBC broadcasts until October 29th, 1956.

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May 2003

Minc, Alain. Épîtres ŕ nos nouveaux maîtres. Paris: Grasset, 2002. ISBN 2-24-661981-5.

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Williams, Andrew. The Battle of the Atlantic. New York: Basic Books, 2003. ISBN 0-465-09153-9.

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Fussell, Paul. BAD. New York: Summit Books, 1991. ISBN 0-671-67652-0.

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Feynman, Richard P. Feynman Lectures on Computation. Edited by Anthony J.G. Hey and Robin W. Allen. Reading MA: Addison-Wesley, 1996. ISBN 0-201-48991-0.
This book is derived from Feynman's lectures on the physics of computation in the mid 1980s at CalTech. A companion volume, Feynman and Computation (see September 2002), contains updated versions of presentations by guest lecturers in this course.

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Weschler, Lawrence. Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder. New York: Pantheon Books, 1995. ISBN 0-679-76489-5.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology has a Web site now!

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Smith, Edward E. Skylark DuQuesne. New York: Pyramid Books, 1965. ISBN 0-515-03050-3.
This book is out of print; use the link above to locate used copies. Paperbacks are readily available in readable condition at modest cost. The ISBN given here is for a hardback dumped on the market at a comparable price by a library with no appreciation of the classics of science fiction. Unless you have the luck I did in finding such a copy, you're probably better off looking for a paperback.

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Ray, Erik T. and Jason McIntosh. Perl and XML. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 2002. ISBN 0-596-00205-X.

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Buckley, William F. Getting It Right. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0-89526-138-3.

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Manly, Peter L. Unusual Telescopes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-521-48393-X.

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Lindenberg, Daniel. Le rappel ŕ l'ordre. Paris: Seuil, 2002. ISBN 2-02-055816-5.

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Fussell, Paul. Uniforms. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. ISBN 0-618-06746-9.

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June 2003

Derbyshire, John. Prime Obsession. Washington: Joseph Henry Press, 2003. ISBN 0-309-08549-7.
This is simply the finest popular mathematics book I have ever read.

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Adams, Scott. The Dilbert Future. New York: HarperBusiness, 1997. ISBN 0-88730-910-0.
Uh oh. He's on to the secret about Switzerland (chapter 4).

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Wright, Robert. Nonzero. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000. ISBN 0-679-44252-9.
Yuck. Four hundred plus pages of fuzzy thinking, tangled logic, and prose which manages to be simultaneously tortured and jarringly colloquial ends up concluding that globalisation and the attendant extinction of liberty and privacy are not only good things, but possibly Divine (chapter 22). Appendix 1 contains the lamest description of the iterated prisoner's dilemma I have ever read, and the key results table on 341 is wrong (top right entry, at least in the hardback). Bill Clinton loved this book. A paperback edition is now available.

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Fenton, James. An Introduction to English Poetry. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002. ISBN 0-374-10464-6.

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Barrow, John D. The Constants of Nature. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002. ISBN 0-375-42221-8.
This main body copy in this book is set in a type font in which the digit “1” is almost indistinguishable from the capital letter “I”. Almost—look closely at the top serif on the “1” and you'll note that it rises toward the right while the “I” has a horizontal top serif. This struck my eye as ugly and antiquated, but I figured I'd quickly get used to it. Nope: it looked just as awful on the last page as in the first chapter. Oddly, the numbers on pages 73 and 74 use a proper digit “1”, as do numbers within block quotations.

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King, David. The Commissar Vanishes. New York: Henry Holt, 1997. ISBN 0-8050-5295-X.

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Kagan, Robert. Of Paradise and Power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. ISBN 1-4000-4093-0.

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Carpenter, [Malcolm] Scott and Kris Stoever. For Spacious Skies. New York: Harcourt, 2002. ISBN 0-15-100467-6.
This is the most detailed, candid, and well-documented astronaut memoir I've read (Collins' Carrying the Fire is a close second). Included is a pointed riposte to “the man malfunctioned” interpretation of Carpenter's MA-7 mission given in Chris Kraft's autobiography Flight (May 2001). Co-author Stoever is Carpenter's daughter.

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Arkes, Hadley. Natural Rights and the Right to Choose. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-521-81218-6.

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July 2003

Thomas, Dominique. Le Londonistan. Paris: Éditions Michalon, 2003. ISBN 2-84186-195-3.

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Rees, Martin. Our Final Hour. New York: Basic Books, 2003. ISBN 0-465-06862-6.
Rees, the English Astronomer Royal, writes with a literary tic one has become accustomed to in ideologically biased news reporting. Almost every person he names is labeled to indicate Rees' approbation or disdain for that individual's viewpoint. Freeman Dyson—Freeman Dyson!—is dismissed as a “futurist”, Ray Kurzweil and Esther Dyson as “gurus”, and Bjřrn Lomborg as an “anti-gloom environmental propagandist”, while those he approves of such as Kurt Gödel (“great logician”), Arnold Schwarzenegger (“greatest Austrian-American body”), Luis Alvarez (“Nobel physicist”), and Bill Joy (“co-founder of Sun Microsystems, and the inventor of the Java computer language”) get off easier. (“Inventor of Java” is perhaps a tad overstated: while Joy certainly played a key rôle in the development of Java, the programming language was principally designed by James Gosling. But that's nothing compared to note 152 on page 204, where the value given for the approximate number of nucleons in the human body is understated by fifty-six orders of magnitude.) The U.K. edition bears the marginally more optimistic title, Our Final Century. but then everything takes longer in Britain.

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Goldstuck, Arthur. The Aardvark and the Caravan: South Africa's Greatest Urban Legends. Johannesburg: Penguin Books, 1999. ISBN 0-140-29026-5.
This book is out of print. I bought my copy in a bookshop in South Africa during our 2001 solar eclipse expedition, but didn't get around to reading it until now. You can occasionally find used copies on abebooks.com, but the prices quoted are often more than I'd be willing to pay for this amusing but rather lightweight book.

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Graham, Richard H. SR-71 Revealed. Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1996. ISBN 0-7603-0122-0.
The author, who piloted SR-71's for seven years and later commanded the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, provides a view from the cockpit, including descriptions of long-classified operational missions. There's relatively little discussion of the plane's development history, engineering details, or sensors; if that's what you're looking for, Dennis Jenkins' Lockheed SR-71/YF-12 Blackbirds may be more to your liking. Colonel Graham is inordinately fond of the word “unique”, so much so that each time he uses it he places it in quotes as I have (correctly) done here.

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Zakaria, Fareed. The Future of Freedom. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003. ISBN 0-393-04764-4.
The discussion of the merits of the European Union bureaucracy and World Trade Organisation on pages 241–248 will get you thinking. For a treatment of many of the same issues from a hard libertarian perspective, see Hans-Hermann Hoppe's Democracy: The God That Failed (June 2002).

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Benford, Gregory ed. Far Futures. New York: Tor, 1995. ISBN 0-312-86379-9.

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Wells, H. G. Mind at the End of Its Tether and The Happy Turning. New York: Didier, 1946. LCCN 47-002117.
This thin volume, published in the year of the author's death, contains Wells' final essay, Mind at the End of Its Tether, along with The Happy Turning, his dreamland escape from grim, wartime England. If you've a low tolerance for blasphemy, you'd best give the latter a pass. The unrelenting pessimism of the former limited its appeal; press runs were small and it has rarely been reprinted. The link above will find all editions containing the main work, Mind at the End of Its Tether. Bear in mind when pricing used copies that both essays together are less than 90 pages, with Mind alone a mere 34.

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O'Leary, Brian. The Making of an Ex-Astronaut. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970. LCCN 70-112277.
This book is out of print. The link above will search for used copies at abebooks.com.

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August 2003

Wood, Peter. Diversity: The Invention of a Concept. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003. ISBN 1-893554-62-7.

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Jenkins, Dennis R. Magnesium Overcast: The Story of the Convair B-36. North Branch, MN: Specialty Press, [2001] 2002. ISBN 1-58007-042-6.
As alluded to by its nickname, the B-36, which first flew in 1946, was one big airplane. Its 70 metre wingspan is five metres more than the present-day 747-400 (64.4 m), although the fuselage, at 49 metres, is shorter than the 70 metre 747. Later versions, starting in 1950, were powered by ten engines: six piston engines (with 28 cylinders each) driving propellers, and four J47 jet engines, modified to run on the same high-octane aviation gasoline as the piston engines. It could carry a bomb load of 39,000 kg—no subsequent U.S. bomber came close to this figure, which is the weight of an entire F-15E with maximum fuel and weapons load. Depending on winds and mission profile, a B-36 could stay aloft for more than 48 hours without refueling (for which it was not equipped), and 30 hour missions were routinely flown.

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Milton, Julie and Richard Wiseman. Guidelines for Extrasensory Perception Research. Hatfield, UK: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1997. ISBN 0-900458-74-7.

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Pickover, Clifford A. The Science of Aliens. New York: Basic Books, 1998. ISBN 0-465-07315-8.

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Breslin, Jimmy. Can't Anybody Here Play This Game? Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, [1963] 2003. ISBN 1-56663-488-1.

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Barnouw, Erik. Handbook of Radio Writing. Boston: Little, Brown, 1939. LCCN  39-030193.
This book is out of print. The link above will search for used copies which, while not abundant, when available are generally comparable in price to current hardbacks of similar length. The copy I read is the 1939 first edition. A second edition was published in 1945; I haven't seen one and don't know how it may differ.

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Herrnstein, Richard J. and Charles Murray. The Bell Curve. New York: The Free Press, [1994] 1996. ISBN 0-684-82429-9.

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Hitchens, Christopher. A Long Short War. New York: Plume, 2003. ISBN 0-452-28498-8.

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Hanson, Victor Davis. Mexifornia. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003. ISBN 1-893554-73-2.

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September 2003

Chambers, Whittaker. Witness. Washington: Regnery Publishing, [1952] 2002. ISBN 0-89526-789-6.

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Jenkins, Dennis R. and Tony Landis. North American XB-70A Valkyrie. North Branch, MN: Specialty Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58007-056-6.

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Standage, Tom. The Victorian Internet. New York: Berkley, 1998. ISBN 0-425-17169-8.

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Moorcock, Michael. Behold the Man. London: Gollancz, [1969] 1999. ISBN 1-857-98848-5.
The link above is to the 1999 U.K. reprint, the only in-print edition as of this writing. I actually read a 1980 mass market paperback found at abebooks.com, where numerous inexpensive copies are offered.

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Havil, Julian. Gamma: Exploring Euler's Constant. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-691-09983-9.

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Fleming, Thomas. The New Dealers' War. New York: Basic Books, 2001. ISBN 0-465-02464-5.

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Dyson, Freeman J. The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-513922-4.
The text in this book is set in a hideous flavour of the Adobe Caslon font in which little curlicue ligatures connect the letter pairs “ct” and “st” and, in addition, the “ligatures” for “ff”, “fi”, “fl”, and “ft” lop off most of the bar of the “f”, leaving it looking like a droopy “l”. This might have been elegant for chapter titles, but it's way over the top for body copy. Dyson's writing, of course, more than redeems the bad typography, but you gotta wonder why we couldn't have had the former without the latter.

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Large, Christine. Hijacking Enigma. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. ISBN 0-470-86346-3.
The author, Director of the Bletchley Park Trust, recounts the story of the April 2000 theft and eventual recovery of Bletchley's rare Abwehr Engima cipher machine, interleaved with a history of Bletchley's World War II exploits in solving the Engima and its significance in the war. If the latter is your primary interest, you'll probably prefer Michael Smith's Station X (July 2001), which provides much more technical and historical detail. Readers who didn't follow the Enigma theft as it played out and aren't familiar with the names of prominent British news media figures may feel a bit at sea in places. A Web site devoted to the book is now available, and a U.S. edition is scheduled for publication later in 2003.

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Gardner, Martin. How Not to Test a Psychic. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1989. ISBN 0-87975-512-1.

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October 2003

Sowell, Thomas. The Quest for Cosmic Justice. New York: Touchstone Books, 1999. ISBN 0-684-86463-0.

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Spotts, Frederic. Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58567-345-5.
A paperback edition is scheduled to be published in February 2004.

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Nettle, Daniel and Suzanne Romaine. Vanishing Voices. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-513624-1.
Of the approximately 6000 languages in use in the world today, nearly 85 percent have fewer than 100,000 speakers—half fewer than 6000 speakers. Development and globalisation imperil the survival of up to 90% of these minority languages—many are already no longer spoken by children, which virtually guarantees their extinction. Few details are known of many of these vanishing languages; their disappearance will forever foreclose whatever insights they hold to the evolution and structure of human languages, the cultures of those who speak them, and the environments which shaped them. Somebody ought to write a book about this. Regrettably, these authors didn't. Instead, they sprinkle interesting factoids about endangered languages here and there amid a Chomsky-style post-colonial rant which attempts to conflate language diversity with biodiversity through an argument which, in the absence of evidence, relies on “proof through repeated assertion,” while simultaneously denying that proliferation and extinction of languages might be a process akin to Darwinian evolution rather than the more fashionable doctrines of oppression and exploitation. One can only shake one's head upon reading, “The same is true for Spanish, which is secure in Spain, but threatened in the United States.” (p. 48) or “Any language can, in fact, be turned to any purpose, perhaps by the simple incorporation of a few new words.” (p. 129). A paperback edition is now available.

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Haig, Matt. Brand Failures. London: Kogan Page, 2003. ISBN 0-7494-3927-0.

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Rousmaniere, John. Fastnet, Force 10. New York: W. W. Norton, [1980] 2000. ISBN 0-393-30865-0.

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Webb, Stephen. If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens…Where Is Everybody?. New York: Copernicus, 2002. ISBN 0-387-95501-1.

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Wilson, Robin. Four Colors Suffice. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-691-11533-8.

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Rabinowitz, Dorothy. No Crueler Tyrannies. New York: Free Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7432-2834-0.

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Brin, David. The Transparent Society. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books, 1998. ISBN 0-7382-0144-8.
Having since spent some time pondering The Digital Imprimatur, I find the alternative Brin presents here rather more difficult to dismiss out of hand than when I first encountered it.

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November 2003

Wodehouse, P. G. Psmith in the City. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, [1910] 2003. ISBN 1-58567-478-8.
The link above is to the only edition presently in print in the U.S., a hardcover which is rather pricey for such a thin volume. I actually read a 15 year old mass market paperback; you can often find such copies at attractive prices on abebooks.com. If you're up for a larger dose of Psmith, you might consider The World of Psmith paperback published by Penguin in the U.K., which includes Psmith Journalist and Leave It to Psmith along with this novel.

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Stepczynski, Marian. Dollar: Histoire, actualité et avenir de la monnaie impériale. Lausanne: Éditions Favre, 2003. ISBN 2-8289-0730-9.
In the final paragraph on page 81, in the sentence which begins «Ŕ fin septembre 1972», 2002 is intended, not 1972.

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LaHaye, Tim and Jerry B. Jenkins. Soul Harvest. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1998. ISBN 0-8423-2925-0.
This is what happens when trilogies go bad. Paraphrasing the eternal programming language COBOL, “04 FILLER SIZE IS 90%”. According to the lumpen eschatology in which the Left Behind series (of which this is volume four) is grounded, the world will come to an end in a seven-year series of cataclysms and miracles loosely based on the book of Revelation in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Okay, as a fictional premise, that works for me. The problem here is that while Saint John the Divine managed to recount this story in fewer than 1600 words, these authors have to date filled twelve volumes, with Tetragrammaton knows how many more yet to come, stringing readers of the series along for more years than the entire apocalypse is supposed to take to go down. It is an accomplishment of sorts to start with the very archetypal account of fire and brimstone, wormwood and rivers running with blood, and make it boring. Precisely one paragraph—half a page in this 425 page tome—is devoted to describing the impact of of a “thousand mile square” asteroid in the the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, while dozens, nay hundreds, of pages are filled with dialogue which, given the apparent attention span of the characters (or perhaps the authors, the target audience, or all of the above), recaps the current situation and recent events every five pages or so. I decided to read the first volume of the series, Left Behind (July 2002), after reading a magazine article about the social and political impact of the large number of people (more than fifty million copies of these books have been sold to date) who consider this stuff something more than fantasy. I opted for a “bargain box” of the first four volumes instead of just volume one and so, their having already got my money, decided to slog through all four. This was illogical—I should have reasoned, “I've already wasted my money; I'm not going to waste my time as well”—but I doubt many Vulcans buy these books in the first place. Time and again, whilst wading through endless snowdrifts of dialogue, I kept thinking, “This is like a comic book.” In this, as in size of their audience, the authors were way ahead of me.

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Sacco, Joe. Palestine. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2001. ISBN 1-56097-432-X.

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Lime, Jean-Hugues. Le roi de Clipperton. Paris: Le Cherche Midi, 2002. ISBN 2-86274-947-8.
This fascinating novel, reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, is based on events which actually occurred during the Mexican occupation of Clipperton Island from 1910 through 1917. (After World War I, the island returned to French possession, as it remains today; it has been uninhabited since 1917.) There is one instance of bad astronomy here: in chapter 4, set on the evening of November 30th, 1910, the Moon is described as «…trčs lumineuse…. On y voyait comme en plein jour.» (“…very luminous;…. One could see like in broad daylight” [my translation]). But on that night, the Moon was not visible at all! Here is the sky above Clipperton at about 21:00 local time courtesy of Your Sky. (Note that in Universal time it's already the morning of December 1st, and that I have supplied the actual latitude of Clipperton, which is shown as one minute of latitude too far North in the map on page 8.) In fact, the Moon was only 17 hours before new as shown by Earth and Moon Viewer, and hence wasn't visible from anywhere on Earth on that night. Special thanks to the person who recommended this book using the recommendation form! This was an excellent read which I'd otherwise never have discovered.

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Hazlitt, Henry. Economics in One Lesson. New York: Three Rivers Press, [1946, 1962] 1979. ISBN 0-517-54823-2.

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Cahill, Thomas. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter. New York: Doubleday, 2003. ISBN 0-385-49553-6.

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Ferguson, Niels and Bruce Schneier. Practical Cryptography. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0-471-22357-3.
This is one of the best technical books I have read in the last decade. Those who dismiss this volume as Applied Cryptography Lite” are missing the point. While the latter provides in-depth information on a long list of cryptographic systems (as of its 1996 publication date), Practical Cryptography provides specific recommendations to engineers charged with implementing secure systems based on the state of the art in 2003, backed up with theoretical justification and real-world experience. The book is particularly effective in conveying just how difficult it is to build secure systems, and how “optimisation”, “features”, and failure to adopt a completely paranoid attitude when evaluating potential attacks on the system can lead directly to the bull's eye of disaster. Often-overlooked details such as entropy collection to seed pseudorandom sequence generators, difficulties in erasing sensitive information in systems which cache data, and vulnerabilities of systems to timing-based attacks are well covered here.

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Vazsonyi, Balint. America's Thirty Years War. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 1998. ISBN 0-89526-354-8.

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December 2003

von Dach, Hans. Total Resistance. Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, [1958] 1965. ISBN 0-87364-021-7.
This is an English translation of Swiss Army Major von Dach's Der totale Widerstand — Kleinkriegsanleitung für jedermann, published in 1958 by the Swiss Non-commissioned Officers' Association. It remains one of the best manuals for guerrilla warfare and civilian resistance to enemy occupation in developed countries. This is not a book for the faint-hearted: von Dach does not shrink from practical advice such as, “Fire upon the driver and the assistant driver with an air rifle. …the force of the projectile is great enough to wound them so that you can dispose of them right afterward with a bayonet.” and “The simplest and surest way to dispose of guards noiselessly is to kill them with an ax. Do not use the sharp edge but the blunt end of the ax.” There is strategic wisdom as well—making the case for a general public uprising when the enemy is near defeat, he observes, “This way you can also prevent your country from being occupied again even though by friendly forces. Past experience shows that even ‘allies’ and ‘liberators’ cannot be removed so easily. At least, it's harder to get them to leave than to enter.”

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Seuss, Dr. [Theodor Seuss Geisel]. Horton Hears a Who! New York: Random House, 1954. ISBN 0-679-80003-4.

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Ross, John F. Unintended Consequences. St. Louis: Accurate Press, 1996. ISBN 1-888118-04-0.
I don't know about you, but when I hear the phrases “first novel” and “small press” applied to the same book, I'm apt to emit an involuntary groan, followed by a wince upon hearing said volume is more than 860 pages in length. John Ross has created the rarest of exceptions to this prejudice. This is a big, sprawling, complicated novel with a multitude of characters (real and fictional) and a plot which spans most of the 20th century, and it works. What's even more astonishing is that it describes an armed insurrection against the United States government which is almost plausible. The information age has changed warfare at the national level beyond recognition; Ross explores what civil war might look like in the 21st century. The book is virtually free of typographical errors and I only noted a few factual errors—few bestsellers from the largest publishers manifest such attention to detail. Some readers may find this novel intensely offensive—the philosophy, morality, and tolerance for violence may be deemed “out of the mainstream” and some of the characterisations in the last 200 pages may be taken as embodying racial stereotypes—you have been warned.

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Becker, Jasper. Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine. New York: Henry Holt, [1996] 1998. ISBN 0-8050-5668-8.

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Hirshfeld, Alan W. Parallax. New York: Henry Holt, 2001. ISBN 0-8050-7133-4.

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Popper, Karl R. The Open Society and Its Enemies. Vol. 1: The Spell of Plato. 5th ed., rev. Princeton: Princeton University Press, [1945, 1950, 1952, 1957, 1962] 1966. ISBN 0-691-01968-1.
The two hundred intricately-argued pages of main text are accompanied by more than a hundred pages of notes in small type. Popper states that “The text of the book is self-contained and may be read without these Notes. However, a considerable amount of material which is likely to interest all readers of the book will be found here, as well as some references and controversies which may not be of general interest.” My recommendation? Read the notes. If you skip them, you'll miss Popper's characterisation of Plato as the first philosopher to adopt a geometrical (as opposed to arithmetic) model of the world along with his speculations based on the sum of the square roots of 2 and 3 (known to Plato) differing from π by less than 1.5 parts per thousand (Note 9 to Chapter 6), or the exquisitely lucid exposition (written in 1942!) of why international law and institutions must ultimately defend the rights of human individuals as opposed to the sovereignty of nation states (Note 7 to Chapter 9). The second volume, which dissects the theories of Hegel and Marx, is currently out of print in the U.S. but a U.K. edition is available.

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Carlos [Ilich Ramírez Sánchez]. L'Islam révolutionnaire. Textes et propos recueillis, rassemblés et présentés par Jean-Michel Vernochet. Monaco: Éditions du Rocher, 2003. ISBN 2-268-04433-5.
Prior to his capture in Sudan in 1994 and “exfiltration” to a prison in France by the French DST, Carlos (“the Jackal”), nom de guerre of Venezuelan-born Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (a true red diaper baby, his brothers were named “Vladimir” and “Lenin”) was one of the most notorious and elusive terrorists of the latter part of the twentieth century. This is a collection of his writings and interviews from prison, mostly dating from the early months of 2003. I didn't plan it that way, but I found reading Carlos immediately after Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies (above) extremely enlightening, particularly in explaining the rather mysterious emerging informal alliance among Western leftists and intellectuals, the political wing of Islam, the remaining dribs and drabs of Marxism, and third world kleptocratic and theocratic dictators. Unlike some Western news media, Carlos doesn't shrink from the word “terrorism”, although he prefers to be referred to as a “militant revolutionary”, but this is in many ways a deeply conservative book. Carlos decries Western popular culture and its assault on traditional morality and family values in words which wouldn't seem out of place in a Heritage Foundation white paper. A convert to Islam in 1975, he admits he paid little attention to the duties and restrictions of his new religion until much later. He now believes that only Islam provides the framework to resist what he describes as U.S. totalitarian imperialism. Essentially, he's exchanged utopian Marxism for Islam as a comprehensive belief system. Now consider Popper: the essence of what he terms the open society, dating back to the Athens of Pericles, is the absence of any utopian vision, or plan, or theory of historical inevitability, religious or otherwise. Open societies have learned to distinguish physical laws (discovered through the scientific method) from social laws (or conventions), which are made by fallible humans and evolve as societies do. The sense of uncertainty and requirement for personal responsibility which come with an open society, replacing the certainties of tribal life and taboos which humans evolved with, induce what Popper calls the “strain of civilisation”, motivating utopian social engineers from Plato through Marx to attempt to create an ideal society, an endpoint of human social evolution, forever frozen in time. Look at Carlos; he finds the open-ended, make your own rules, everything's open to revision outlook of Western civilisation repellent. Communism having failed, he seizes upon Islam as a replacement. Now consider the motley anti-Western alliance I mentioned earlier. What unifies them is simply that they're anti-Western: Popper's enemies of the open society. All have a vision of a utopian society (albeit very different from one another), and all share a visceral disdain for Western civilisation, which doesn't need no steenkin' utopias but rather proceeds incrementally toward its goals, in a massively parallel trial and error fashion, precisely as the free market drives improvements in products and services.

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McMath, Robert M. and Thom Forbes. What Were They Thinking?. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998. ISBN 0-812-93203-X.

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